Starling's Law of the Heart
[ places - june 08 ]
Despite Harvey's discovery of the circulation of the heart in the seventeenth century, blood letting went on for another three hundred years. It is one of the great intellectual mysteries of science how they carried on regardless; obstinate and proud.
Proud as the Qashqa'i, that tribe of nomads that still migrate back and forth with their goats along the flanks of the Zagros mountains in Iran. Through fields now owned by settled farmers who threaten them when their herds graze on the crops and damage the fields. Their ancient right of way has been destroyed, crossed now by arteries of public roads and lakes of private property.
"Over my dead body, you'll pass this way," and a feud erupts.
"No city would want me," an elder says. "My father gave me this stick, he didn't give me a pen or a book, so what else can I do? I do not need much, only enough so that when someone visits my house I will not be embarrassed."
His daughter is full of contradictions as any good person should be.
"I love my father. He gives us everything. He never complains. The migration is fun. We talk all the time, we joke, we don't notice the road... but the women do all the work. I get mad. Minding the baby goats is hard work. Sometimes I dream of settling down, of not having to pack up every morning, not having to be always on the move... but I love my father, I love the road."
This is the last of the blood letting, the last of the great mysteries. Why do they keep moving? Out of stubborn habit, genetics - the same way a dog circles three or four times before he falls asleep, to flatten grass that no longer exists. His ancestors did it to make a bed for themselves and now it's entangled in the physiology despite the absence of tall grass.
The Qashqa'i move north. Both animal and herdsmen and women become skinny along the way. They have to bet that the pastures up north will fatten the animals again. For move than five centuries they have won this bet, not much money, but enough to survive. Every year the takings are smaller and smaller. Soon they will be losing. But they carry on. It is simply a way of life, a religion. Blisters are kisses that they hate. Campfires are caresses they scorn. Anything easier is not worth loving.
So it is not so easy to laugh at all the blood letting that went on for three hundred years after Harvey's discovery. Necessity or science will catch up with us in its own time. There is no need to rush. At the end of our migration we are face to face with a one-way mirror. We kiss it with a faith that our beloved is on the other side.
Starling EH and Visscher MB. The regulation of the energy output of the heart. J. Physiol 62: 243-261, 1926
This paper states: ...in an isolated heart, beating with a constant rhythm and well supplied with blood, the larger the diastolic volume of the heart (within physiological limits) the greater is the energy of its contraction. It is this property which accounts for the marvellous adaptability of the heart, completely separated from the central nervous system, to varying load...